Story for the Day: The Quarto Cipher
Marridon is well-known for its teahouses, the most famous of them all being the Quarto Cipher, the most popular teahouse in the old quarter. A favourite of both Danaco and Bartleby, the Cipher boasts a library, card rooms, game tables, a comprehensive liquor counter, and quite unfortunately a good portion of the gentry in Marridon:
The small stone fountain at the centre of Old Marridon grimaced on the smiling scene of Quarto Cipher, a teahouse well fitted up in the furnishings of a thousand years back, offering the promise of polite society, due civilities to esteemed patrons, and the discourge belonging to the more pedantic of Marridon.the disctrict in the full bloom of morning. The old masonry, weathered and riddled with dark stains, its wreathing grotesques decorated with the parting gifts of the local birds, seemed depressed amidst the vibrant brocades of the surrounding stalls. The grocers called out their seasonal greens, the fruiterer summoned patrons with melon slices and dried apricots, the vinter wheeled his cart along the eastern side of the fountain, where wives were collecting round the butcher’s window in want of fresh cuts, and the fishmongers lined up along the pier adjacent, festooning the rows with boxes of salted ice, presenting the salmon and crabs caught only hours before. Patches of crooked shoppes and gabled houses dotted the region, old fashioned styles were displaying in nearby windows, the milliners and haberdashers draping their models in high-wasted dresses and printed fabrics with beribboned bonnets and pocketed spencers. Old women crambled down the front steps of slanted houses, to feed the various cats prowling the lanes and to tend their gardens, duffers and dobbins raised their flat caps to the drivers of passing drays, the couriers trotted by on horseback and posted across the cobbles, the ceaseless clink of wheels on stone accompanying the clicking of hooves beating along the ground. A few trade frigates relinquished their berths in the nearby port, sloops skimming the water drifted south toward the marina at full sail, merchants flocked toward the trade stand with the ambition of haggling away the rest of the morning, while gulls and gargoyles populating the surrounding roofs, sitting with open mouths, astonished by the clamour of the quarter, expecting to be relieved of the teeming sibilations the next moment. Maids and servants tripped off to market for their employers, the taverns began filling with workmen and businessmen ready for their midday collations, and everyone who was either too old to work or too disagreeable to work with others congregated round the library or in the old teahouses, ancient and mysterious venues where anyone who was ill-disposed for inane conversation, and anyone who was tolerably literate, went to relieve their hearts and minds of various frustrations, went to hear important news, and to quarrel with acquaintances over dry biscuits, small cakes, and a well-brewed leaves-- and sensible of this, and well inclined to hear and see all the openness and artlessness that a meal spent in a teahouse might offer, Danaco walked through the square to the
Being situated nearer to the academic quarter, where the Grand Marridon Library and the Academy sat in quiet mortification of the arts district beside, the Quartro Cipher was exactly the teahouse to suit the captain’s discrimination. It housed a small lending library, boasted of its supernumerary postal services, and invited anyone who was desirous of a small respite by way of a game of Sirs or Crown and Anchor to sit and dine at its tables. Tiered silver treys and porcelain teapots decorated every surface, glass tables and high-backed chairs lingered in every corner, printed wallpaper in the old Adiethian style clung to every room, and placements of well worked lace lay dormant under napkins and finger glasses. Men hung round the counter deliberating over the morning’s newspaper whilst women sat in the front room with their workbaskets, speaking in quiet consultation with their daughters and friends, the click of their knitting needles combating the crepitations of the small fire. A few silent observers asperged the far corners, watching the goings on of the dining hall with books spread over their laps and teacups in hand, servers went round with their trolleys of biscuits and buns, salvers of cakes and creams were traded between tables, idle gossip was shared behind the dividing panels, and the matron of the place marched between the rows, her ruffled skirts speaking in tremulous sussuration as she tittuped from hall to hall.
Various topics were banded between the patrons; the front room being a well-read compilation, those who made up the various stools and chairs spoke primarily of Marridon’s scholarly and scientific advances, and the great debate for the morning was the new railway, the tracks being just laid and riveted along the outskirts of the capital. The railway had been in development for several years, and now, with the approval of the king and his Chambers, the system was to be put in place at the centre of every municipality, providing work and a living wage to those in desperate want of it, and promising transportation for those who lived beyond the borders of the major towns. As the final judiciary authority on any communal subject, the whole of the front room was in agreement as to the significance of the Marridon railway for the kingdom: trade would be facilitated, stock would be shipped without delay, and anyone who was in want of the views around Bannantyne or the hunting grounds near the western woods could easily be in those parts of the country in good time. The various prices of tickets were talked of, some complaining of there being something to purchase at all considering the railway was being built with public taxes, and others perfectly resigned to pay whatever price was named for the chance of riding such a marvel of modern science. There was some disparity in the crowd with regard to the positions of the railway stations: Owyain and Llangollyn, being the situated close to Balletrim, were talked of as not being allowed to have any stops on the mainline—one at the races in the western part of the capital would be the closest stop to the northeastern border—as not to give any Balletrim insurgence an advantage, should there a rebellion in that part of the country, and the poorer municipalities like Alys, where all the miners in the kingdom naturally resided, would not be receiving a station in their part of the country either. It seemed as though those who mined the coal required for the running of the engine and those who were in need of the railway most were being denied its use, and while all must agree that this prejudice of districts and boarders was hardly fair, this part of the discussion was soon lost under the clamour of an old man, sitting at the far corner of the room, whose voice carried over all the rest, that the first station to be completed was to be in Old Marridon. Some argued for and some against this being a possibility, others simply sat in silence and watched the debate with sagacious smiles, but the general consensus amongst those involved in the now heated disputation was that regardless of the great industrial production which was to bring about a better means of transportation for everyone, it must be unwelcome in this part of the kingdom. Let the northeast have their station—let Upper and Lower Alys have a station each—only let them take the station scheduled for Old Marridon and let them never bring it back. It was not that a scientific wonder was unwelcome in the district—it would certainly be well-received by those who lived elsewhere and wished to visit the district oftener—but for those in the teahouse, a large station, with a shelter and a towering roof, should obstruct the view from the sitting window to the sea, the locomotive should bring about a noise nobody wanted, and the smell of it, the thick smoke billowing out from its stack, the black brume spreading over the port was sure to be the ruin of all Old Marridon’s equanimity. It might bring in more visitors from the country, but what were visitors when the quarter’s own citizens should be grossly incommoded? The station would be a hovel for odd comers and goers, a breeding ground for questionable activity—the district should not be sacrificed for the sake of a few divagating holidaymakers-- and where would be the good of playing host to a new mode of transportation when ships and legs had done very well for everyone else in the quarter? A railway was a novelty, a conveyance that was rather an abomination than a triumph. It was a wonder in every way, a wonder and a convenience, many in the front room of the teahouse believed, Old Marridon could do without, but while everyone was asserting and offering their opinions on the subject, one voice in the mingle of professions spoke was louder and more vehement than the rest:
“A locomotive is precisely what Marridon needs,” the voice rapsed.